Hackleman on Liddell's future, Babalu set for Wednesday clash
Chuck Liddell's future is uncertain after Saturday's vicious kayo loss at UFC 115
Renato 'Babalu' Sobral fights Robbie Lawler in a rare Wednesday fight card
The midweek slate of fights kicks off a strong mix of MMA fights through Sunday
John Hackleman paused. Emotion shook his voice, which is perpetually hoarse after "18 million reminders over 20 years" for Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell to keep his hands up.
"You can't make someone quit," Hackleman said in the aftermath of Liddell's stoppage loss over the weekend in Vancouver, his fourth such result in three years. "But definitely when I looked down at him in the cage, my stomach ... it just didn't feel good."
Much of the discussion heading into Liddell's main event slot at UFC 115 against Rich Franklin centered on the 40-year-old former UFC light heavyweight champion's ability to take a punch. The shot that put him down Saturday was particularly nasty because of the angle -- a hooking right straight that caught Liddell at his nose and pushed down to his mouth, opening a wide gash on his upper lip that required a plastic surgeon's touch -- but it didn't appear especially heavy. Yet Hackleman said he still hasn't seen enough carnage inflicted on his close friend to ask him to walk away.
Prior to the bout the 50-year-old trainer told SI.com that if a pattern emerged where Liddell was continually getting hurt, he would tell his charge it was time to get out. The pair haven't had a chance to discuss what's next, said Hackleman, though that will happen for the first time this weekend in Las Vegas, where they'll join forces for the finale of The Ultimate Fighter reality show on Spike TV.
Liddell did not respond to SI.com when asked about his future plans.
"I don't think there's too much to talk about," Hackleman said. "I think we both know what he's going to do. I won't speak for him like Dana [White] did. I'll just say I'd rather he not do it anymore."
But if Liddell (21-8) chooses to fight again? If the UFC president relents and allows "The Iceman" in the Octagon even though twice saying he wouldn't? Hackleman swore to be by his man's side. He wouldn't like it. But he couldn't imagine walking away from Liddell. Not now. Not ever.
"If he's gotta do it I'd rather be there looking after him than someone else," the trainer said. "I don't think it will come to that. I think he's good right now. I think he's in a good place and obviously wishes he won. But he's a very successful guy that's accomplished a lot in and out of the cage, and he doesn't really need this anymore in any way. I don't think he has anything to prove."
Repeatedly alluding to Liddell's "warrior mentality" -- "The thing that made him the most famous, richest, most exciting superstar in the sport also can come back and haunt him" -- Hackleman said after Liddell hurt Franklin with his still-heavy punches, "all the game planning went out the window and the warrior in him took over. He dropped his hands, took his chin up and started swinging for the fences. That's the way he went in and that's the way he went out. That's just him."
"Looking down at him cut like that, broke my heart," said the trainer, fighting off tears.
Wednesday evening at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, Renato "Babalu" Sobral faces Robbie Lawler at a catch-weight of 195 pounds to determine the next No. 1 contender in Strikeforce's light heavyweight or middleweight divisions.
By matching fighters out of their respective weight classes, Strikeforce chose an unconventional way to determine championship contenders, in part because of a lack of depth at light heavyweight and uncertainty of the plans of its current free agent middleweight champion, Jake Shields.
Sobral, 35, said fighting 10 pounds under his traditional weight is "ideal," and he stepped on the scale at 193.5 without issue on Tuesday.
"I have the chance to fight Lawler this way," Sobral said after working out for the media at the Krav Maga Worldwide Training Center in West L.A. "It's his call and he agreed to fight me."
Keeping his weight down by cutting out "Coronas, chips and weekends," Sobral echoed Rich Franklin by saying he would like athletic commissions to adopt additional breaks between weight divisions. Currently, there's a 20-pound gap between middleweight and light heavyweight.
Dropping all the way to 185 is "too much," said the veteran Brazilian, whose record stands at 35-8. "It wouldn't be natural."
Against the 28-year-old Lawler (19-5) there aren't any mysteries. The middleweight slugger offers pure power, and Sobral acknowledged he needs to avoid taking punches on the rare Wednesday evening fight card (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET) if he hoped to get a shot at Strikeforce 205-pound champion Muhammed Lawal. Still, Sobral said he won't shy away from standing with Lawler: "I've been working my hands very well. I've been working a lot of speed."
People close to Sobral suggest competing for a belt isn't necessarily at the top of his list of priorities. He'd much rather rematch Dan Henderson or Gegard Mousasi. But with the clock ticking on a career that began in 1997, he has no way of knowing if this is his last opportunity at fighting for a major title.
"I need to fight, get back on track and put some money in my pocket," Sobral said. "I have to pay some bills."
Starting with the mid-week Strikeforce card in L.A., promoters around the world are offering a strong mix of bouts through Sunday. Here are fights worth paying close attention to:
Strikeforce, Los Angeles (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/PT)
-- Robbie Lawler vs. Renato Sobral
-- Marius Zaromskis vs. Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos
-- Time Kennedy vs. Trevor Prangley
-- K.J. Noons vs. Conor Heun
2010 Bellator Welterweight Tournament Final, Kansas City (Fox Sports Net, check local listings)
-- Dan Hornbuckle vs. Ben Askren
The Ultimate Fighter 11 Middleweight Final, Las Vegas, Nevada (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT)
-- Court McGee vs. Krix McCray
-- Keith Jardine vs. Matt Hamill
-- Aaron Simpson vs. Chris Leben
-- Spencer Fisher vs. Dennis Siver
WEC 49, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Versus, 6 p.m. ET)
-- Jamie Varner vs. Kamal Shalorus
-- Josh Grispi vs. L.C. Davis
Sengoku, Tokyo (HDNet, tape-delay, June 25)
-- Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki
-- Masanori Kanehara vs. Marlon Sandro